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Hope

The virtue of hope goes togeth­er with the pow­er of faith. The patri­arch Abra­ham “in hope believed against hope that he should be the father of many nations.” (Romans 4:18) And hope, like faith, is in that which is not seen.

For in this hope we are saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. (Romans 8:24–25)

Hope is the assur­ance of the good out­come of our lives lived by faith in God. Hope is the pow­er of cer­tain con­vic­tion that the life built on faith will pro­duce its fruits. Hope is the con­fi­dence, that despite all dark­ness and sin, the light of the lov­ing for­give­ness of God is upon us to do with us and for us, what we our­selves can­not do.

Our soul waits for the Lord; He is our help and shield. Yea our hearts are glad in Him, because we trust in His holy name. Let Thy stead­fast love, O Lord be upon us, even as we hope in Thee. (Psalm 33:20–22)

The oppo­site of hope is despon­den­cy and despair. Accord­ing to the spir­i­tu­al tra­di­tion of the Church, the state of despon­den­cy and despair is the most griev­ous and hor­ri­ble con­di­tion that a per­son can be in. It is the worst and most harm­ful of the sin­ful states pos­si­ble for the soul.

The loss of hope is the worst pos­si­ble state because with­out hope, noth­ing else is pos­si­ble; cer­tain­ly not faith. If a per­son is faith­less, he can be chas­tised and con­vinced. If a per­son is proud, he can be hum­bled; impure, he can be cleansed; weak, he can be strength­ened; wicked, he can be made right­eous. But if a per­son is despon­dent and despair­ing, the very con­di­tion of his sick­ness is such that his heart and soul are dead and unre­spon­sive to the grace of God and the sup­port of his broth­ers.

…the force of despon­dence… over­whelms him and oppress­es his soul; and this is a taste of hell because it pro­duces a thou­sand temp­ta­tions: con- fusion, irri­ta­tion, protest­ing and bewail­ing one’s lot, wrong thoughts, wan­der­ing from place to place, and so on. (Saint Isaac of Syr­ia, 6th c., Direc­tions on Spir­i­tu­al Train­ing)

The demon of despon­den­cy, which is called the 46 noon-day demon” (Psalm 91:6) is more griev­ous than all oth­ers. (…) It arous­es in him vex­a­tion against the place and mode of life itself and his work, adding that there is no more love among the brethren, and no one to com­fort him. (…) Then it pro­vokes in him a long­ing for oth­er places… (Eva­grius of Pon­tus, 4th c., To Ana­tolius: On Eight Thoughts)

The only rem­e­dy for despair is humil­i­ty and patience, the stead­fast hold­ing to the life of faith, even with­out con­vic­tion or feel­ing. It is the sim­pli­fi­ca­tion of life by going through each day, one day at a time, with the con­tin­u­al obser­vances, how­ev­er exter­nal, of scrip­tur­al read­ing, litur­gi­cal wor­ship, fast­ing, prayer, and work. In the advice of Saint Bene­dict (6th c), it is to remain sta­ble in one’s place, and to “to what you are doing” as well as you can, with all pos­si­ble atten­tion. In the advice of Saint Seraphim (19th c.), it is to vis­it with spir­i­tu­al friends, with those who are hope­ful, mer­ci­ful, joy­ful and strong. It is to stand fast to the end while pass­ing through arid­i­ty and dark­ness, until the light of blessed hope and com­fort are found. There is no oth­er way, and “those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:14). But when one “fights and con­quers against despon­den­cy and despair, this strug­gle is fol­lowed by a peace­ful state and the soul becomes filled with inef­fa­ble joy.” (Eva­grius, To Ana­tolius: On Eight Thoughts)

When we are attacked by the demon of despon­den­cy — the most griev­ous of all, but who more than all makes the soul expe­ri­enced — let us divide our soul in two, and mak­ing one part the com­forter and the oth­er part the com­fort­ed, let us sow seeds of good hope in our­selves, singing with David the psalmist: “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you dis­qui­et­ed with­in me? Hope in God; for I will again praise Him, my help and my God.” (Psalm 42:5; Eva­grius of Pon­tus, To Ana­tolius: Texts on Active Life)

Some­times peo­ple think that a cer­tain “lack of hope” is a Chris­t­ian virtue. They think that by pro­claim­ing that 44 all is lost” they please God by their humil­i­ty and sor­row over sins, their own and those of the world.

They think that the more they con­cen­trate on the evils of men, the more they exalt the strength of the wicked, the more they sigh and say, “There is no help for US In God!”, the more right­eous and pious they become. But this is all wrong. It has noth­ing to do with the patient suf­fer­ing at the hands of the wicked, and the patient strug­gle against the pow­ers of evil that the right­eous must endure, being absolute­ly cer­tain of their ulti­mate and total vic­to­ry in God, the source of their strength and their hope.

It is no virtue to feel weak and help­less in the pres­ence of the wicked. It is no virtue to con­sid­er one­self total­ly at the mer­cy of evil and sin. It is a virtue rather to be always “rejoic­ing in hope, patient in tribu­la­tion” know­ing and believ­ing that the final vic­to­ry is God’s. (Romans 12:12)